Interior Designer Elizabeth Martin Designs a Family-Friendly Residence in Silicon Valley

Wingback chair covered in a Duralee linen

Contrary to popular belief, it is quite possible for a brand-new house to be filled with soul from the beginning. Soul does not necessitate, for example, generations of a family to have taken up residence there over the course of decades. The only thing required is a genuine intent to make the house deeply personal. So when a young family of three, pursuing a grand business opportunity for the husband, migrated from the concrete jungle of New York City to an idyllic Bay suburb, they chose a pristine new build whose clapboard-inspired architecture connected them to their East Coast origins.

While the shingle style is sometimes reserved for modestly sized cottages in New England, this particular home measured in at more than 10,000 square feet. The family’s interior designer, San Francisco—based Elizabeth Martin, recalls an early conversation with the wife about the size of the domicile. “She told me it was around 4,000 square feet,” says Martin. “But doesn’t that speak volumes about how intimate this house feels?”

Display wall of art and photography above a console

Considering as well that the individual spaces are quite lofty and the scale of doors oversized, achieving a level of intimacy in a house this grand could be considered miraculous. Instead of the formality that might be expected in a home of this dimension, however, Martin chose to give it a more relaxed sensibility—a comfortable elegance suited to California living. She began by carefully considering proportion and selecting furnishings that were appropriately scaled to each room. Next, she chose a neutral palette, underscored with plenty of textured, natural fabrics, to reflect the Bay Area’s organic sensibility. The understated hues also provide a backdrop for the furnishings, which, in their coastal grays and blues, wood and well-worn leather, add richness and coziness to the rooms. Martin also appreciated that the deep crown moldings and baseboards bestowed a charming heritage quality upon the house, and left them in place. As she notes, because they’re bereft of any ornate carvings, the vibe remains fresh. “The homeowners really appreciate modernism, but they have a traditional streak, too,” she says. “The bones of the house perfectly accommodated both styles.”

Family room sofa covered in Sunbrella Tropical navy fabric

While some designers would consider appointing a home from scratch as the ideal situation, Martin believes that incorporating the homeowners’ existing pieces goes a long way. “I don’t find the family’s treasured pieces to be limitations at all,” she says. “You can have the most beautiful new furniture, but without personal effects, something’s missing. You might not be able to put your finger on it, but you’ll definitely sense it.”

For instance, since the husband, who is French-American, is a history buff, the home is steeped in Americana, from a bust of Lincoln and a portrait of Geronimo in the living room to a wall-size, timeworn American flag in the basement. “These pieces evoke a certain nostalgia that makes the place feel somehow familiar,” says Martin. The homeowners’ antique dining table, a transplant from their Nantucket vacation house, is also important in establishing a sense of soul in the residence. Crafted from solid walnut, the traditional piece provides visual warmth and its hefty proportions anchor the tableau.

Martin is a firm believer that art is also integral to a home’s spirit. Here, such modern pieces as the colorful abstract in the dining room or the moody blue canvas in the library—both from Dolby Chadwick Gallery in San Francisco—have the ability to enliven or subdue a space. The gallery wall at the entry—a lively arrangement of new works by California artists and pieces from the homeowners’ collection—is a marriage of old and new, symbolizing how the two elements come together in a home to achieve a meaningful space.